It’s true, I’m not just a values-junkie; I’m a pusher. I believe if we define our most crucial values and honor at least some of them, some of the time, we’ll lead happier lives, which can increase relationship satisfaction and joy as co-parents.
How do we figure out our core values? By exploring what we love, what inspires us, who we wanna be when we grow up, and by describing what drives us crazy. So, grab a pen and paper, and answer some questions:
What we love: Think of 2 or 3 close pals and list what you appreciate most about them. Now, think of 2 or 3 things you love to do (or used to love to do). How do you feel when you do them and what qualities or attitudes do you express when you do them?
What inspires us: Choose 2 or 3 fictional, historical, or famous people you admire. What about them inspires you or prompts your admiration?
Who we wanna be: Imagine you’re a fly on the wall at your funeral. What would you hope attendees say about who you were, how you lived your life, the impact you had on them, on the world?
What drives us crazy: Think of 2 or 3 situations or people that press your buttons. What rubs you the wrong way about them? Now, flip your answers over. For example, I can’t stand rudeness. When I invert rudeness, I come up with thoughtfulness and politeness.
Chances are you have a great start to a list of your core values. To refine it, scan the Possible Values List (below) to ensure you didn’t miss anything important.
Now, take a highlighter and pick your Top 10: those crucial to your wellbeing and fulfillment right now, the non-negotiables. One more thing: Define your Top 10, e.g., to me, loyalty to friends means I don’t take sides if they fight; my pal defines loyalty as choosing sides based on who she believes is right.
Why define values? So that when you discuss them with your spouse, s/he will understand what your values mean…to you.
Case in point: Cathy and Sean* almost didn’t discuss their dislike of spoiled kids because, well, they shared a value around not raising spoiled kids.
But when they started talking, they learned Cathy equates spoiled with giving kids a lot of stuff that comes too easily to them, which, she thinks, breeds ingratitude, entitlement and a poor work ethic. When she inverted those negative traits, she realized gratitude, appreciation, fairness and a strong work ethic are core values.
For Sean, spoiling is about what parents attach to gifting. He thinks kids get spoiled when parents substitute stuff for love, or when there are strings attached to parents’ giving. Kids then get over-invested in what parents give because of what it represents, e.g., love, affection, acceptance, etc. Sean realized that his version of spoiling highlighted the values of love, directness, openness and affection.
As soon as they defined their terms, Cathy and Sean not only understood that spoiling means different things to them, but the values they want to honor in their parenting are different, too. Their next step was to talk about how to support each other’s approaches, while honoring their own. I repeat: Defining our values is important.
When it comes to relationships, honoring values is a team sport. Meaning, helping our spouses honor their values doesn’t just make sense if you want to be a supportive spouse, it’s also a really great way to nurture our relationships.
That’s why I ask wives to be captains of their husbands’ values-team, and husbands to lead the values-charge for their wives. (If you’re not married, or in a same-sex relationship, please plug in words that work for you.)
What does being Team Captain mean? It doesn’t mean sharing the same values or even agreeing with our spouse’s values. It means respecting that their values are important to them and to their fulfillment in life. So, Team Captain, try the following exercise:
1) Encourage your spouse to pick a core personal value that has taken (or that s/he’s concerned will take) a backseat to parenting or other priorities.
2) Ask your spouse: What’s important to you about this value?
3) Then ask: If you were to honor this value just 10% more than you do now, what might that add to your life, or your sense of self, or your happiness?
4) Together, figure out the first step s/he can take toward that 10% effort, and attach a realistic deadline, so your spouse has a timeframe in which to succeed.
5) Ask: How can I help you succeed at that first step? Then, to the best of your ability, do what’s requested.
6) Book an appointment on your calendars to check in about your spouse’s 10% experience, and discuss next steps to further honor this or another value.
7) Ask your spouse to do steps 1-6 with you. (Ideally, you won’t have to ask, as you’ll both have read this post, but just in case….)
Granted, it takes time to figure out our individual, couple and parent values and, whether we already have kids or are expecting our first, time is at a premium. But unless we take that time to discover our own values, and the values we want to cultivate and honor with our spouses, we run the risk of misunderstanding, miscommunication and conflict.
All of those take a lot of time, too, and I’m convinced that the time we devote to mining our values–both individually and with our spouses–is far better spent, and a lot more fulfilling, than time spent arguing or working at cross-purposes with our beloveds. I’m more than convinced; I guarantee it.
* Names and details have been changed to protect privacy; composite of various couples.